Jeff Nichols’ science fiction thriller owes a lot to John Carpenter’s “Starman,” mainly because he aspires to achieve the same exploration of humanity with his own film that also speaks very heavily about our own society. Right down the truly excellent score by David Wingo, “Midnight Special” feels like new wave John Carpenter, as it’s an ode to the classic seventies and eighties science fiction films that teams family against impossible odds. This time, it’s a young boy named Alton who is imbued with amazing and enigmatic powers that has made him something of a martyr for a religious cult.
Born under mysterious circumstances, Alton became the figure of worship for a relentless cult, and is perceived as an omen of a higher power making its way to Earth. His dad Roy and best friend Lucas break him out and seek to re-unite him with his mother, all the while trying to figure out why Alton is on Earth and what his ultimate purpose is. Like “Starman” and “E.T.” Roy, Lucas, and Alton find themselves evading the government and local law enforcement, all the while trying to also side step their temptations to return to the comfort of their cult. With two of their members on the hunt for Alton to bring him back to their clutches, the quest to help Alton becomes more harrowing and deadlier by the hour.
“Midnight Special” is a beautiful ode to the science fiction of yesteryear that also obtains its own substance and complex ideas about our own world and reality. Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton are rather superb as two men with their own goals to save Alton who aren’t always on the same page. Shannon as father Roy will do anything to save Alton, even if it means gunning down a highway ranger, while Edgerton as Paul is very strategic and much more rational. Alton is a very unusual and mysterious being who begins drawing just about everything to him, and becomes this walking magnet metaphorically and literally.
The idea of what Alton could represent becomes gradually more intriguing the more Roy and Paul fight to get him to safety. Once Kirsten Dunst is introduced as Alton’s mother and ex-cult member, there’s much more comprehension on what his presence means. Once Nichols has the opportunity to explain Alton to the audience, much of what “Midnight Special” is comes full circle to represent something so much more complex and insightful. Nichols doesn’t opt wholly for a cinematic tribute, as he also realizes that there’s some interpretation to be gained. “Midnight Special” is a surprisingly transcendent science fiction tale about humanity and our state of being. Jeff Nichols’ drama is a bonafide gem, and one that deserves to be appreciated and studied.
The Blu-Ray release for “Midnight Special” comes with a five minute segment called “Origins” about the inspiration for the film, and the central themes, along with interviews from the cast. Finally, there’s the twelve minute multi-chapter “The Unseen World” which focuses on the multiple characters and their arcs, including Roy, Lucas, mom Sarah, Alton, and NSA agent Sevier, as played by Adam Driver.